This week’s Top Chef Canada began with our remaining chefs taking stock of their respective situations. Trista knew she had to step up her game; Trevor and Jonathan made some time for balcony yoga while Xavier looked on, cigarette in hand. As we’d soon find out, this was the calm before the storm.
But first, we witnessed a tiny hurricane of creativity, as the cheftestants were tasked with developing a recipe using ingredients purchased from a sort of high-end vending machine. Sure, there were pretzels, pork rinds and chocolate, but also wasabi peas, nori and dried figs. To win the challenge, our chefs would have to whip up a salty and sweet treat good enough for the discerning Spencer Rice, who is famous for, among other things, wearing an octopus on his head on the TV show Kenny vs. Spenny.
Perhaps trying a little too hard to impress, David grabbed an ambitious five items from the vending machine and proceeded to make a nigh-indescribable nori-wrapped, ramen and ketchup chip tempura-battered beef jerky with papaya dish, or something (pic above). According to Spenny, it was also nigh unpalatable.
Trevor, though, took a less-is-more approach, incorporating two primary ingredients—pork rinds and pretzels—into an offering of pork rind chicken wings with pretzel mayonnaise (pic below). Sure, it sounded a bit gross, but apparently the snack was savoury enough for our scruffy-haired guest judge, who awarded it a gold star—and gave its chef an unspecified advantage for the forthcoming elimination challenge.
We discovered Trevor’s advantage quickly enough when the chefs were dropped off in the wilderness and told to set up for a campfire cookout challenge. Well, all the chefs but Trevor had to make camp, anyway; our lovably nerdy shavepate from Vancouver found his solo tent already pitched, and it came complete with shag carpet, a working light and proper bed. So that was his quickfire prize—a comfortable night’s sleep!
The next morning our competitors hiked to their cook site, where they’d be preparing a “wild brunch” for our usual judges plus guest chef (and alleged bad camper) Roger Mooking.
It seemed as though most of the chefs really savoured the opportunity to cook outside. And why not, considering the whopping cornucopia of a “pantry” they had available to them! I suspect when most of us venture into the great outdoors, we bring with us a small selection of frozen hotdogs, canned beans and maybe some sandwich meats; our aspiring Top Chefs had the likes of pheasant, rabbit, duck and all manner of fresh fruit and vegetables at their disposal.
Jonathan showed his ingenuity by jury rigging his fire just right to ensure his guinea hen (a notoriously difficult bird to cook) turned out tender and flavourful. Trevor, too, earned kudos for a well-made ragout of pheasant leg, corn and mushrooms, and Carl plated a palate-pleasing duck dish.
Even Trista managed to get back in the judges’ good books with a smorgasbord of squab (pic below).
On the other hand, Ryan and Xavier were each knocked down a peg or two for presenting dishes that were altogether too rich.
And then things got really interesting, as David brought out his trumpet mushroom-stuffed quail and cassoulet, and proceeded to serve it family-style on naan bread that he baked himself. High winds whipped up and it looked for a second that a storm would ruin David’s service, but what actually did him in was the fact that his quail was not fully cooked. Bad news bears, as they say.
Yet he showed enough creativity, enough technique, and enough moxie to stay in the game, despite failing to deliver on his main ingredient. Instead, Ryan was asked to pack his knives and go.
Was it a just decision? It’s hard for me to say. Upon learning that David had served underdone poultry I thought for sure he’d be heading home, but it seems he did enough other things right to remain in the game. I suspect, too, that Ryan’s string of subpar performances made him slightly more of a target this time around. After all, one can only displease Mark McEwan so many times.
Who was hot (and who was not) in episode nine?
Hot: Trevor. Quickfire win and in the top group at Judge’s Table? That’s usually gonna boost your temperature a bit.
Hot: Trista. Following a few weeks of difficulty, she clawed her way back on top. I mean, really. She put a squab claw on her dish!
Not: Ryan. Like Trista, he seems like a great person. Also like Trista, he’s been on the bottom for a while now. Unlike Trista, his wild brunch offering proved difficult for the judges to stomach.
Craig is an editor at a Toronto-based city magazine. He also writes about all manner of cultural topics, including food culture.
by Craig Moy